CNEWA

90 Years, 90 Heroes:
Thomas Straczynski

Thomas Straczynski knows the meaning of working to enrich people’s lives. For 37 years, he taught social studies and American history at a New York area Catholic school.

Today, he’s retired from the classroom. But his commitment to helping others remains strong — which is why he’s a devoted CNEWA donor — and, a CNEWA hero.

“I was born in Greenpoint, Brooklyn,” he explains. “A very close-knit ethnic Polish community. Every Sunday, I’d see the local diocesan newspaper called the Tablet. I was about ten, and read an article about a town called Taybeh.”

It’s a town in Lebanon, where local Christians — needing funds to build a church — asked potential contributors to “buy” a brick. “It hit me that, gee, I can contribute to building a church halfway around the world,” Thomas recalls. “So I sent in my little contribution, and got a letter back from a local bishop. I still have the letter. I’ve never been to Lebanon, but if I ever go I’d love to check on my brick.”

Not long afterward, he read an informational mailing from CNEWA. “It was during the 1950’s, and I was hooked,” he remembers. “I became very interested in the Eastern churches. I’ve always had a love for the liturgy, the iconography, the music.”

Once he became a donor, CNEWA’s magazine — today’s ONE — began arriving in his mailbox regularly. “I loved the stories,” he says. “When I was teaching, I had CNEWA send me thirty or forty copies, which I would give to my students. I got many of the kids interested. Hopefully, I made a difference.”

Several years ago, Thomas extended his support of CNEWA’s work into his estate planning. He’s now a CNEWA Legacy Donor, a decision that came naturally.

“When it came time to update my will, one of the first organizations that came to mind was CNEWA,” Thomas explains. “When I read an article in CNEWA’s magazine about the elderly, I realized how important it is to help people like me. You have pensioners in Armenia, Georgia, Ukraine. They’re really suffering. And the reason they’re suffering is because they’re my age.”

Thomas knows his life is comparatively blessed. “I live in circumstances they couldn’t possibly imagine,” he says. “It hit me like a ton of boulders that these people are cast aside. Pope Francis refers to the ‘throwaway culture.’ They deserve so much more. To not go hungry. To not freeze in winter, or be lonely because their children and grandchildren have gone off to make their fortunes.”

He agrees it’s important to support churches and Christian medical clinics. Both are major facets of CNEWA’s mission. “But we need to remember the old and marginalized, who no one else remembers. Abandonment is not a pretty thing. And that’s why, in my will, I specified that whatever goes to CNEWA should be primarily for the elderly.”

Does he encourage others to remember CNEWA when developing their estate plan?

“Absolutely,” Thomas Straczynski says. “It’s a no-brainer. It gives me a good feeling to know it will be used well. There’s so much hope for Christianity. We have to spread that hope to places where we can make a difference.”

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